A Brief Look at Stephen E. Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage:
Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West
Undaunted Courage is a very detailed account of what Ambrose considers the most important expedition in American history, Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the west. Ambrose attempts to project Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a country that stretches from sea to shining sea, of an open road to the west, of an “Empire of Liberty”. Ambrose repeatedly shows how important the expedition was to the United States and especially to Thomas Jefferson by giving examples of the powers given to Lewis by Jefferson in order to complete the expedition. Lewis is given a letter of credit signed by Thomas Jefferson
“authorizing him to draw on any agency of the U.S. government anywhere in the world, anything he wanted” (Ambrose 95). He is also given the power to choose his own team including his co-leader William Clark whom he had served under in the army and knew to be “a tough woodsman accustomed to command” (Ambrose 97).
Ambrose focuses mainly on Meriwether Lewis, the leader of the expedition and Secretary to President Jefferson. He is very in-depth in his description of Lewis’s character and his philosophies concerning slavery, Native Americans, and his general political beliefs. He gives detailed descriptions of the many new species of animals and plant life that are discovered, the Indian tribes they encountered, and the awe and wonderment they experienced with each new discovery. He also discusses at great length the many hardships that they experienced along the way including dealing with unfriendly Indians, crossing portages, surviving harsh winters, and the expedition’s only casualty, the death of Sergeant Charles Floyd, a relative of Clark.
Ambrose is a skilled writer and he relied heavily on the journals kept by the Corp of Discovery and his own vast knowledge of the subject to tell the story and be as historically accurate as possible. One would think this combination would produce an epic tale impossible to put down. This was not the case for me. I found the book to be a chore to read. It...